15 June 2010

Life – But Not As We Know It

Dr Craig Venter, a multi-millionaire pioneer in genetics, and his team have managed to make a completely new "synthetic" life form from a mix of chemicals. They manufactured a new chromosome from artificial DNA in a test tube, then transferred it into an empty cell and watched it multiply – the very definition of something being alive. Artificial life had been created. See picture above.

Now Dr Venter believes the organism, nicknamed Synthia (wait for it), will pave the way for more complex creatures that can transform environmental waste into clean fuel, vaccinate against disease and soak up pollution.

But his development has also triggered debate over the ethics of "playing god" and the dangers the new technology could pose in terms of biological hazards and warfare.

"We are entering an era limited only by our imagination," he said announcing the research published in the journal Science.

Scary or what?

But let’s think positively about this astonishing development. First of all, I have an affinity with Synthia – after all it’s got the same name as J’s sister – my sister-in-law. Synthia - a single cell organism not capable of anything rational – ha ha!

So if we’re only a few years away from ‘more complex creatures’ which will ‘help’ mankind – what could they do? Dr Venter has already mentioned a few things it/they could do above.

The interesting one is cleaning up pollution. BP could certainly do with a few trillion organisms ‘eating’ all the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico but what does one do with a couple of trillion oil bloated organisms? What do you do with them when they’ve finished their job? Just let them swim away?

I suppose another interesting ‘application’ along the same lines would be organisms or Synthias which you would spray under your arms and other sweaty places and just let them ‘munch away’, keeping you smelling as fresh as when you stepped out of the shower. In theory an organism like this, let’s call it a Sweatganism, could be a roaring success in France where even your friendly bank teller or supermarket cashier seem not to know that anti-perspirants and deodorants exist. But would they use them? Maybe not – after all, it’s not particularly difficult buying a can or two of anti-perspirant and spraying it on each morning. But maybe it’s the daily application which is the problem. If you sprayed on a Sweatganism and it lasted for a month – bingo – a fragrant French society!

And if I could buy a few billion bramble-eating ‘brambleisms’ and I sprayed them on my jungle and hey-presto the ground was cleared – we’ll I’d pay quite a bit for some of them, just as long as they knew not to eat my Cala Lillies or my palm trees.

And what if you could buy Oilisms which you put in your car engine and you never needed to change your oil ever again?

Mouldisms which you spray in your fridge and eat all that green furry stuff which ruins your food?

What about Liceisms which the kids in French schools could spray on their hair so that they never get Poo (lice) again?

The list is endless and thanks to Dr Venter, all these things will probably happen one day.

Thanks Synthia – when are you out here?

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